At a recent parenting seminar, the co-founder of a major investment firm relayed a story about an interview she conducted at her company. She was excited to be meeting with a young woman who had stellar credentials — a graduate from the top of her class at an Ivy League school, two solid summer internships with outstanding investment firms, active participation in on-campus activities with leadership roles. On paper, the student looked great — and then she showed up to the interview with her mother.
Needless to say, she didn’t get the job.
It seems fairly obvious that a parent shouldn’t tag along on her child’s job interview, and yet it’s not the only way in which some parents overreach. Parents are submitting applications on their child’s behalf, calling companies to find out how interviews went, and advocating for higher salaries for their children all in a misguided attempt to help their child (who, by the way, is an adult) succeed.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Blame it on the helicopter-ing some of us parents have been engaged in since our children were tots. “Parents aren’t going to suddenly stop working for their children’s success after more than two decades of such a close attachment,” explains Ron Alsop, in his book The Trophy Kids Grow Up.
Similarly, the “children” aren’t necessarily going to stop involving their parents in major decisions — like a career — either.
“When we ask our students who they rely on [in the career search process],” Mimi Collins of The National Association of Colleges and Employers explained, “Parents come out pretty high on that list.”
Given that influence, she believes it is unrealistic to expect parents to stay completely out of the process. That’s not a bad thing, if a parent can use their influence in a productive way.
Be involved, just not over involved.
So, what can a well-meaning parent do to support their student or recent graduate through this process?
For starters, if you must talk to someone, stay away from potential employers and focus on the career services department at your student’s university instead. Many universities have embraced the role of the parent in the student’s career search, offering presentations during family weekends, keeping parents updated via newsletters and Facebook feeds, and even going so far as to incorporate a “parents” section on the career services’ website. Butler University in Indianapolis, for instance, has a “Career Planning Course for Parents” on its site that walks parents through the process from freshman year on and offers tips on what parents can do to help. Not surprisingly, the tips involve supporting the student not doing the work for them.
Gary Beaulieu, Director of Internship and Career Services at Butler University, understands parents’ need to be involved in their child’s career decisions. “Parents have paid a lot for a student’s education and should be invested in the outcome,” he said.
He notes that parental involvement is particularly useful in the first and second years of college when students are beginning the process of figuring out what they are interested in.
However, once it comes down to the actual job search, he encourages parents to take a back seat and act as a sounding board as their student works through issues, such as whether or not to take a job offer. “It’s okay to help them make that decision,” Beaulieu explains. “It’s okay for parents to be involved in the process. Don’t be over involved.”
Whose life is it, anyway?
Sometimes it helps to take a step back and consider the reasons you feel so invested in your kid’s job search. Are you really worried your college grad will live on the couch in your basement forever, or is it because you wanted your daughter to be a doctor and she wants to be an entrepreneur?
For Mark Presnell, Executive Director of Northwestern University’s Career Advancement Office, communication between parent and student throughout this process is key. “Often there is a disconnect between what the student wants and what the parent wants,” Presnell observes.
He encourages parents to call his office to learn more about what can be a long and confusing process. For instance, recruiting in different fields happens at different times of the year, which means parents may hear about students who have had jobs for months while their child is still polishing their resumé. “Parents, a lot of time, want their son or daughter to have security and stability and that is the problem,” Presnell explains.
Parents should look for opportunities to talk to their student to understand who they have become during their years in college, what kind of day-to-day work life they find attractive, what jobs are out there, and where they might fit. It may be very different from what the parent had been envisioning.
Final DO’S AND DON’TS
Let’s say it again: DON’T attend interviews, call prospective employers, or negotiate salaries. Just don’t.
DO reach out to the university if you are anxious about the process. “It’s good to talk about outcomes,” explains Presnell. Northwestern has a 97% placement rate for students within six months of graduation. Hearing that only 3% of students are still looking for jobs after six months may help lessen parental anxiety.
DO encourage your child to use the resources that are available on campus. According to Collins, students who participate in practice interviews learn better interviewing skills, which, not surprisingly, lead to more job offers. “Students who use career service deeply, benefit greatly,” said Collins.
DO share a contact if you know someone who could help your student with a job lead, an internship or an informational interview.
DON’T reach out to said contact and set up the meeting for your kid.
DO encourage independence. “We want the student to own that success,” Presnell explains.
DO remember that motivating your student is not your job, but being a supportive parent is.